The Dramatic Angle #1

Telly Savalas opens a door.

This lovely image is from the decidedly unlovely PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW, a retina-searingly tasteless serial killer campus sex comedy directed by Roger Vadim, written by Star Trek supremo Gene Roddenberry. Hollywood cinema in its post-code priapic male menopause mode. The Gene-Roddenberry-in-disguise character is a college guidance counsellor who’s slipping the salami to all the cheerleaders. He’s played by Rock Hudson, without apparent irony. Meanwhile, somebody (else?) is killing said cheerleaders, and pinning sarcastic notes to their corpse-panties. What all this says about Roddenberry, a notorious babe-hound, is hard to fathom, but I don’t find it encouraging.

Campuses, in the modern age, tend to be rather ugly structures, and this whole film is startlingly devoid of attractive locales, which is unusual for Vadim. At least there’s a panoply of female pulchritude (including Angie Dickinson and the celebrated Joy Bang), plus poor old Roddy McDowell (who seems to crop up in every misbegotten 70s atrocity I peruse). And Telly, who’s still in pre-lollipop mode. He smokes strangely, as if the cigarette were a lipstick. Later, following Mario Bava’s advice, he would successfully quit the coffin nails by finding something else to do with his hands, and hence the Kojak lollipop was acquired.

It’s not easy to account for the Savalas appeal, but it’s a very real thing. I always buck up when I see his name in the credits. When I see him in HORROR EXPRESS, playing a cossack, I dance a jig.

I seem to recall actor Dudley Sutton (Duke of Wuertemberg in Fellini’s CASANOVA, Tinker in Lovejoy) talking about meeting some nice woman who’d met Telly on holiday. He’d been charmed by her little daughter and kept talking about wanting to take the child home with him. The woman seemed delighted by this patter, whereas Dudley “– found this terrifying, because when I worked with him*, he was out of his mind on LSD the whole time.”**

*On A TOWN CALLED BASTARD, which Dud called “the crookedest film I was ever in.”

**More Dudley wisdom: “Now, the best films to be in for drugs were the Disney films…”

22 Responses to “The Dramatic Angle #1”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    Wow, I totally long to see this film! Great cast and I’m a huge fan of Roger Vadim, a far more talented director than many of the ‘canonical’ New Wave cineastes. And I say that – much as Rock Hudson plays a womanising professor – without apparent irony.

  2. Here’s Rock giving advice about erections

    Also featured in this serial-killer comedy, the ever-iconic Joy Bang (go look her up on IMDB.)

  3. Oh, I heard all about Joy Bang (saw her in Messiah of Evil) right here, from a recent “friend” who wanted nothing more than to trash-talk her into the ground. The only comment I’ve “censored” since it was really nobody else’s business. Anyway, she’s alive and well and working in the midwest.

  4. I used to know her EONS ago because her discoverer, indie filmmaker Andrew Meyer, was a friend of mine. She had a pretty good run in the 70’s: Dealing, Play it Again Sam, Cisco Pike. But then she met Katherine Hepburn — and thereby hangs a tale.

  5. As a nurse! Even if she had never existed, just the name itself is iconic.

  6. Joy’s debut was in Andy Meter’s marvelous 1966 featurette An Early Clue to the New Direction (props to the first “Shadowplayer” who can guess where that title comes from). Shot in black and white it shows Joy swannign aroundBoston with her pal Rene Ricard. They meet an ancient gay boho named Prescott Twonsend and the film consists of Joy chatting with him about his life, especially it’s high point “the roaring 20’s.” Townsend — Quentin Crisp’s American cousin _- was a real find. He spoke in an ultra-slow style. But it works well for the film which was shot without synch sound.

    Don’t know about its availability (Andy died of AIDS quite some tiem ago) but if you can find it, grab it.

  7. Along with an old friend of mine, Harvey Marks — billed as “Slash Marks.”

  8. And speaking of Telly Savalas . . .

  9. “It took more than one man to change my name to Slash Marks / Joy Bang / Telly Savalas / Rock Hudson.”

    No sign of the Andy Meter as yet but I’ll keep an eye out. Any film taking it’s title from Kenneth Haigh’s appearance in A Hard Day’s Night gets my vote.

  10. Really weird by An Early Clue to the new Direction is the one film NOT listed on Andy Meyer’s IMDB chart

  11. Christopher Says:

    I love Lisa and the Devil,a return to Bava’s old style,sadly it got little respect in its day as the times ,they are a changin’,Gothic was out,Exorcists was in.Carlo Savina’s music is really lovely

  12. Great film! One of the most demented stories ever, unable to settle on a single story for more than five minutes, and it has a more dreamy and romantic style than earlier Bavas. A film out of time, truly.

  13. david wingrove Says:

    NIGHT OF THE COBRA WOMAN looks fantastic! Where can we see the whole film?!

  14. No idea. It’s one of Roger Corman’s (many ) Phillipine-shot programmers. A number of films from his company are out on home video.

  15. Tony Williams Says:

    I saw Dudley Sutton on UK TV in an episode of the Kenneth Branagh series WALLENDER while visiting. HORROR EXPRESS has a great script by Bernard Godon where Cushing and/or Lee say, “I’m not a monster. I’m British” – or words to that effect.

  16. jason hyde Says:

    Tony, the actual quote’s even better. When the Russian police inspector tells Cushing that he or Christopher Lee could very well be the monster, Cushing looks aghast and says ‘Monster? We’re British, you know!’ It really is a priceless moment in a neat little film. Telly’s performance as a drunk Cossack is pretty strange, though.

    As for Joy Bang, I thing I always remember her from is Messiah of Evil, another neat little film with some incredible moments. Joy’s death scene in a disturbingly red cinema full of living dead is definitely a high point. I’ve always loved the little joke of the marquee reading Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye when she walks in. Poor Joy kisses tomorrow goodbye before the end of the trailer for Gone with the West is over.

  17. That cinema scene is a real high point in an uneven film with great bits. One of the film’s editors was Morgan Fisher, who later used off-cuts from the film in one of his experimental movies. I can’t remember if it was the deftly-titled () or another one…

  18. jason hyde Says:

    There’s a lot bits in Messiah of Evil that would lend themselves to experimental movies. It’s a shame that a film of so many great moments (the opening scene, the supermarket attack, the cinema, all the parts where Marianna Hill wanders around the amazing house, Elisha Cook Jr.) never really coheres, but it’s still pretty fascinating stuff, especially considering that director Willard Huyck’s future had Howard the Duck in it.

  19. He did a lot of better screenwriting in later years though. Because despite the very strong moments (REALLY good use of fluorescents in the lighting of those big public spaces) the plot, as you say, never coheres. And if it had failed to cohere in an interesting and mysterious way, that could have been OK, but the basic zombie nature of the horror probably demands a more conventional kind of closure.

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